So there they were, literally dozens of dragonflies flying around two separate Vacaville (Calif.) yards, feasting on swirling clouds of prey (gnatlike insects) and then touching down on blades of grass or fence posts.
They proved as elusive as a celebrities attempting to avoid a paparazzi.
Dragonflies, but what species?
Bohart Museum of Entomology associate Greg Kareofelas of Davis identified them as variegated meadowhawks, Sympetrum corruptum. "Notice how the pterostigma is two-toned," he said. "That is the only dragon with that, also the two black spots at the end of the tail. They kind of migrate--or maybe mass dispersal is a better name. A bunch can show up if there is something to eat, then the whole gaggle moves on."
The pterostigma cell, located in the outer wing of insects, is often thickened or colored and so it stands out from other cells, according to Wikipedia. It is particularly noticeable in dragonflies, but is also present in other insect groups, such as snakeflies, hymenopterans and megalopterans.
"The male is commonly dark brownish black with an abdomen of bright red, pink, and golden brown," Wikipedia relates. "The thorax may be marked with a pair of yellow dots on each side. The leading edges of the wings are marked with pinkish. The females are similar in color but not as brightly colored, with gray and yellow replacing the red of the male. Young variegated meadowhawks are much paler and mottled with pale green, pale yellow, golden brown, and orange."
According to Odonata Central, "this species may be seen on the ground more than other meadowhawks. It will also readily perch on the tips of grass stems and tree branches. It can be numerous flying over roads, lawns, meadows, marshes and ponds...Mating occurs while perched on twigs, stems or other vegetation. Females lay eggs accompanied by males in the open water of ponds and lakes. Mass movements of this species have been reported on several occasions."
The variegated meadowhawk, native to North America, belongs to the family, Libellulidae. They're found throughout the United States and southern Canada, according to Odonato Central. "Also, Mexico south to Belize and Honduras."
Coming soon to a yard near you?
What's not to celebrate? And you can do so at the University of California, Davis.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus, is hosting a "Moth Night" from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday, July 21.
Free and open to the public, this is a "family friendly event all about moths," according to Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator. Events will take place both inside and outside the insect museum.
The UC Davis event is one of only two public events scheduled in California during the week; the other is in San Mateo County on July 28.
Bohart scientists will be on hand to discuss moths and answer questions. They include three Bohart associates: entomologist Jeff Smith of Rocklin, curator of the the moth and butterfly specimens; and "Moth Man" John DeBenedictis and naturalist and photographer Greg Kareofelas, both of Davis, who will staff the light traps/blacklighting displays. The best time to see the moths in the light traps is later in the evening, closer to 10.
"We will focus on colorful moths of the night--night rainbows if you will and the biodiversity of tropical moths," Yang said. A family craft activity is planned. Last year the family craft activity featured making moth-shaped window ornaments resembling stained glass.
Free refreshments--cookies and hot chocolate--will be served.
Last year more than 15 species landed on the blacklighting display. The first moth to arrive was the alfalfa looper moth, Trichopusia ni. The most striking: the grape leaffolder, Desmia funeralis.
Some facts about moths, from the National Moth Week website:
- Moths are among the most diverse and successful organisms on earth.
- Scientists estimate there are 150,000 to more than 500,000 moth species.
- Their colors and patterns are either dazzling or so cryptic that they define camouflage. Shapes and sizes span the gamut from as small as a pinhead to as large as an adult's hand.
- Most moths are nocturnal, and need to be sought at night to be seen--others fly like butterflies during the day.
- Finding moths can be as simple as leaving a porch light on and checking it after dark. Serious moth aficionados use special lights and baits to attract them.
The Bohart Museum houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum. It maintains a live "petting zoo," featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, tarantulas, and praying mantids. The museum's gift shop, open year around, includes T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart Museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. It is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on major holidays. Admission is free.
So there she was, flattened out on the patio on Mother's Day, and barely moving.
Vito, our curious canine, paused, sniffed, and then walked away. He was not at all interested.
But I was.
This was a first--the first time I've seen a black saddlebags (Tramea lacerata) dragonfly in our Vacaville garden. They're easy to identify, what with the black saddlebags at their proximal ends. Bohart Museum associate Greg Kareofelas identified the gender. Greg knows dragonflies!
This dragonfly is a glider and apparently doesn't perch much. Its habitat: marshy ponds, lakes, ditches and slow streams. We have none of those in our yard, but we do have a fish pond.
And a dog that sniffed out the black saddlebags.
Scientists tell us that North America is home to seven species of saddlebags, family Libellulidae (skimmers) and genus Tramea (saddlebags). You can find the black saddlebags, a migratory species, throughout the United States and into Canada and Mexico.
So what happened to Ms. Black Saddlebags?
I gingerly picked her up. Figured she was dying. I kept her safe for an hour and then positioned her on a green mat for a quick photo.
It was quick, all right! She twitched her flight muscles in the mid-morning sun, and off she flew, her wings glistening, but wobbling. She picked up speed and her visit was over.
Black saddlebags can reportedly reach speeds of 17 miles per hour.
Ever seen this mottled brownish/blackish/grayish moth around lately? The alfalfa looper moth, Autographa californica?
We spotted this moth, as identified by Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, and Bohart Museum of Entomology associate Greg Kareofelas, a naturalist and photographer, nectaring on mustard blossoms last weekend in Vacaville, Calif.
It was flying during the day. "They are semi- to quite diurnal," says Shapiro, who has been seeing "a lot of them" lately, including at his research field site in Gates Canyon, Vacaville. "The caterpillars are semiloopers and feed a great variety of herbaceous plants."
A moth of the Noctuidae family, it's found from Southern British Columbia to Baja California and to Manitoba, South Dakota, Colorado and New Mexico, according to Wikipedia.
The caterpillars can be troublesome, according to the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program. The 'cats feed on the leaves of many plants, including agricultural crops such as dry beans, lettuce, artichoke, cotton, and tomatoes. They are often mistaken for their fellow leaf eaters, the cabbage looper, Trichoplusia ni.
"Alfalfa and cabbage loopers are quite similar in appearance," UC IPM says on its website. "The greenish larvae crawl by arching their bodies and are 1 to 1.5 inches long when mature. Looper eggs are similar to those of the bollworm in that they are spherical with vertical ridges from top to bottom. However, looper eggs are more flattened and have finer ridges. Alfalfa looper is usually found in May and early June while cabbage looper appears in late June through September."
The adult Autographa californica stopped by for about five minutes for a little food, and then it was off, flying awkwardly. It would have been easy prey for a hungry bird. Or a not-so-hungry bird.
When there's a Bohart Museum of Entomology open house, visitors come to listen, learn and explore.
Such was the case during the Parasitoid Palooza open house last Saturday, Nov. 18 when area residents, including parents and their children, and grandparents and their grandchildren, visited the museum. They came from as near as Davis and as far as Redwood City, Sonoma, Marin, and San Jose.
They came with questions; they left with answers and a deeper appreciation of insects.
There is much to see and do. The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on the UC Davis campus, is the home of nearly eight million insect specimens including about 320,000 in the Lepitoptera (butterflies and moths) collection, curated by entomologist Jeff Smith.
Those figures, however, are much like a moving target, "as we keep adding collections," commented Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and UC Davis professor of entomology.
"Yes, we are constantly adding material," Smith said, and "we may received very large donated collections in the next few years." Smith is almost finished spreading some 4000 specimens from an August Belize expedition."
The Bohart Museum is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity.
Special attractions include a “live” petting zoo, featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, praying mantids and tarantulas. Visitors are invited to hold some of the insects and photograph them. The museum's gift shop, open year around, includes T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart Museum hosts special open houses throughout the academic year. Its regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The museum is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on major holidays. Admission is free.
Upcoming open houses (all free and open to the public):
- Bug-Art@The Bohart on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018 from 1 to 4 p.m.
- Biodiversity Museum Day on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018, a daylong event featuring 12 UC Davis campus museums and collections, including the Bohart Museum. This will be the eighth annual. See Bug Squad blog regarding the 2017 Biodiversity Museum Day, coordinated by Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator.
- UC Davis Picnic Day on Saturday, April 21, 2018 a daylong event
In tomorrow's Bug Squad blog: a close-up look at the family craft activities and human-insect interaction in the petting zoo at the Nov. 18 open house.